The 2020 coronavirus crisis may be wreaking havoc on sales and production, but business aircraft makers are pressing ahead with development work on a tranche of new models
What a difference a few months make. At the start of the year, the business aircraft industry was basking in the glow of a remarkable 2019, when fixed-wing deliveries were at their highest for a decade, order backlogs were returning to relatively healthy levels and the outlook for the industry was sanguine.
Fast forward to May and the mood has shifted drastically. The coronavirus pandemic is battering the sector, leaving cancelled orders, deferred deliveries, furloughed staff, temporary production line closures and mass aircraft groundings in its wake. Analyst Rolland Vincent warns that business jet deliveries could plunge by up to 50% this year. He expects some semblance of an initial recovery to emerge in the fourth quarter as the worst effects of coronavirus disruption subside, but sees a return to 2019 delivery levels taking at least three years.
Meanwhile, manufacturers continue to prepare a range of new and reinvigorated models. Here, we review the programmes outlook.
BOEING BUSINESS JETS
As the 737 Max crisis rumbles on, Boeing says it is “staying close to VIP customers” of the re-engined narrowbody.
Two examples of the BBJ Max 8 have been delivered green to date, and while Boeing says it is continuing to work on the -9 and -7 variants, it will not give a delivery timeframe for either model.
The pair were originally scheduled for certification and customer handover in 2020 and 2022 respectively.
Boeing records 14 orders for the CFM International Leap-1B-powered BBJ Max, most of them -8s – though the airframer expects the shorter Max 7 to be the eventual favourite, owing to its 7,000nm (13,000km)-range: 360nm longer than the -8 and 675nm longer than the -9.
Boeing has also expanded its VIP widebody offering with the introduction in late 2018 of the BBJ 777X. The twin-aisle airliner is an updated version of the BBJ 777, of which Boeing has sold 13 examples to date. Boeing describes the 777X as a “far superior offering”, with GE Aviation GE9X engines and a new, more advanced composite wing.
Like the commercial aircraft on which it is based, the BBJ 777X will be available in -8 and -9 variants. The latter will be first to market, with Boeing earmarking initial green delivery slots of the 11,000nm-range VIP airliner in 2021.
It is uncertain when the smaller 11,600nm-range -8 will come to market as Boeing last year paused development of the commercial airliner variant for an unspecified time.
The Canadian airframer is experiencing one of the busiest periods in its history with two new top-end business jets certificated and delivered into customer hands in 2019, and at least two more aircraft in various stages of development.
A major programme highlight is the successful entry-into-service in December 2018 of the flagship Global 7500, one of the best-selling business jets in Bombardier’s eight-strong line-up. With a backlog in triple figures, the GE Aviation Passport-powered aircraft has the longest range of any traditional business jet at 7,700nm, and Bombardier claims it is the only in-service aircraft in the ultra-long-range segment with “four customisable living areas”.
The Global 5500 and 6500 crossed the finishing line late last year, achieving Canadian, European and US certification less than 18 months after their introduction. While deliveries of the 6,600nm-range Global 6500 are already under way – starting in December with Hong Kong VIP charter company HK Bellawings Jet – its smaller 5,700nm-range stablemate is not expected to enter service until the second half of the year. The pair were unveiled in May 2018 as updated and longer-legged versions of the Global 5000 and 6000, which will also remain in service for the time being.
Powered by the all-new Rolls-Royce Pearl 15 engine, the Global 5500 and 6500 feature a revamped interior, new wings designed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and a true combined-vision system – a first for a new business jet.
The Global family has consumed a large chunk of Bombardier’s research and development spending in recent years as a result of demand for ultra-long-range large-cabin aircraft, but questions still remain about the status of the Global 8000. Bombardier launched the 7,900nm-range aircraft in 2010 as a smaller sibling of the 7000, now known as the 7500.
While conceding it has moved away from its original plan of building a shortened 7000 with a slightly more range – thanks to the 200nm-range performance increase and rebranding of its sister aircraft – Bombardier has yet to publicly move forward with its development.
While the Global family has been a core focus for the Canadian manufacturer, the lower end of its product line has not being ignored.
Hoping to reverse several years of poor sales for the Learjet 75, Bombardier launched a rescoped version of the aircraft called the Learjet 75 Liberty in July 2019. The move was designed to reposition its high-end entry-level product within the traditional light business jet sector to compete against successful types such as the Cessna Citation CJ3+ and Embraer Phenom 300E.
The Liberty trims accommodation from eight to six seats, and comes with options to bring the list price below the crucial $10 million mark – $3 million less than its predecessor and around the same price as its competitors. It also introduces what Bombardier calls “the segment’s first executive suite” – a spacious area at the front of the cabin with two forward-facing seats and 0.9m (3ft) of legroom, which the airframer says is “unprecedented” in the category.
Bombardier declines to detail the orderbook for the Liberty, but says the aircraft is “generating strong interest on the market”.
Flight testing is continuing uninterrupted at Bombardier’s US test centre and manufacturing facility in Wichita, Kansas and the Honeywell TFE731-40BR-powered aircraft is on track for certification and service entry in the second half of the year.
Bombardier also continues updating the HTF7350-powered, 10-passenger Challenger 350 – which is the top-selling business jet in the midsize segment.
It recently equipped the Challenger 350 with better sound dampening technology and introduced a package of braking improvements and rudder control modifications that give it 1,500nm more range when operating from some short runways. A combined Rockwell Collins head-up display (HUD) and enhanced vision system (EVS) is scheduled for certification shortly.
A revamp of the Challenger 650 is also on the cards. Bombardier is believed to be considering new avionics and engines – possibly a lower-thrust application of the R-R Pearl 15 turbofan – for the large-cabin jet, which was introduced in 2015 as the fifth iteration of the 40-year-old Challenger 600.
Dassault is promising to reveal more details this year about its new business jet, which it dubs the “Future Falcon”. In keeping with its previous product launches, Dassault has kept secret details of the aircraft and what segment it will serve, beyond confirming that its mission will be “different” to the 5,500nm-range in-development 6X.
This super-wide cabin, long-range twin was launched in February 2018 as a larger and longer-legged replacement for the 5X, which Dassault was forced to cancel two months earlier, owing to persistent problems with the aircraft’s Safran Silvercrest engine.
Dassault admits its decision to abandon the 5X programme has set the company’s fortunes back several years because of the wasted development time and lost orders, but it is confident that the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW812D-powered 6X is a better aircraft overall.
Development is proceeding on schedule, Dassault says, with the PW812 now being tested and the first units for the 6X in assembly. First flight is scheduled for 2021 and certification and customer deliveries the following year.
After an eventful 2019, culminating in the certification and service entry of the Praetor 600 and 500 in June and December respectively, Embraer is now enjoying a quiet period in its development cycle. Its remaining project, a revamped Phenom 300E, secured triple certification in March from the Brazilian, European and US regulators, and the first examples are scheduled for delivery late in the second quarter.
Embraer launched the updated 300E in January to boost the value proposition of the six-seat light jet. The improved aircraft is the third iteration of the Phenom 300 series Embraer introduced in 2009 – and which it describes as “the most-delivered light business jet in past decade”, with over 530 examples in service.
The original Phenom 300E – the E standing for “enhanced” – entered service in 2018.
This latest model features improvements to the Garmin G3000-based Prodigy Touch flightdeck, including predictive windshear, emergency descent mode and a runway overrun awareness and alerting system. Aircraft performance in the upgraded Phenom has also been boosted, with the PW535E1-powered twin delivering a high-speed cruise of 464kt (859km/h) – 11kt faster than the current 300E – and a range with five occupants of 2,010nm – 38nm further than its predecessor.
In the cabin, the airframer has introduced the option of the premium Bossa Nova Edition interior that made its debut on the Praetor 500 and 600.
Embraer’s next move is unclear. The airframer has a seven-strong product line spanning the successful entry-level Phenom 100EV to the large-cabin Legacy 650E, with which it has had limited success. It harbours ambitions to offer a move-up aircraft into the long-range sector, but says it will not take that expensive plunge unless it has a design that can truly disrupt this hotly contested segment.
The US airframer is proceeding at speed with its ultra-long-range G700. The first three of five flight-test aircraft have logged over 100h since the type’s debut sortie in February, with the 19-passenger twin on target for certification and entry into service in 2022.
Sitting at the top of Gulfstream’s seven-strong range of high-end business jets, the G700 was launched in October 2019 as a direct challenge to Bombardier’s Global 7500.
Powered by two R-R Pearl 700s rated at 18,250lb-thrust (81.2kN) each, it has a range of 7,500nm – although this is likely to increase during the flight-test campaign – a fly-by-wire control system, active control sidesticks and Honeywell’s Primus Epic-based Symmetry flightdeck with touchscreen avionics, dual HUDs and EVSs.
The G700 also features what Gulfstream describes as “the largest cabin in the industry” – at 17.4m long and 2.5m wide – equipped with “the most advanced and only true circadian lighting system in aviation”. This feature simulates sunrise and sunset “and greatly reduces the physical impact of ultra-long-range travel”, says the manufacturer.
A third-generation version of the 10-seat PC-12 was unveiled by Pilatus in October 2019 to assert its dominance of the executive single-engine turboprop space, which it has occupied for more than 25 years.
The PC-12NGX features a number of enhancements over the NG predecessor, which it replaces, including a PT6E-67XP engine featuring electronic propeller and engine control system, a revamped cockpit with digital autothrottle, a redesigned cabin with a choice of BMW Designworks interiors and larger windows to deliver more natural light.
With European and US certification for the NGX already secured, Pilatus is preparing to hand over the first examples in the coming weeks.
Since the first iteration of the PC-12 entered service in 1994, moret than 1,750 examples have been delivered worldwide, says Pilatus and the fleet has accumulated over 8 million flying hours.
The SJ30i test aircraft has logged over 70h since making its first flight in October 2019. While the San Antonio-based company suggests there “may be some small shift due to the Covid-19 after-effects”, it expects to secure certification for the high-performance light business jet as planned in the first quarter of 2021.
The SJ30i is an updated version of the SJ30-2, which was certificated in 2005 by its former owner, Emivest Aerospace. Four examples were delivered and remain in service.
The Williams International FJ44-2A-powered SJ30i features a redesigned, lightweight interior and a bespoke flightdeck – based on the Honeywell Epic 2.0 cockpit – called SyberVision.
SyberJet is also working on the new standard version of the jet powered by more fuel-efficient, higher-thrust FJ44-3AP-25 turbofans with dual FADEC controls. Scheduled to enter service in 2023, the SJ30x will provide a variety of performance benefits including higher cruise speed at altitude, faster climb, more payload, and better hot-and-high performance, says SyberJet. The aircraft will also feature single-point refuelling.
With no Citation business jet products in development for the first time in over a decade, Textron’s attention is now focused on two clean-sheet turboprop programmes, spearheaded by its Cessna aircraft division.
The twin-engined SkyCourier prototype is edging closer to first flight, scheduled for around mid-year, having recently completed initial ground testing in Wichita.
Cessna says that as well as the first prototype, five additional flight- and ground-test articles will be involved in the SkyCourier development and certification campaign, although a timeframe for the validation and entry into service of the PT6A-65SC-powered, 917nm-range aircraft has not been disclosed.
Cessna is also tight-lipped on the certification timeframe for Denali. First flight of the single-engined, high-performance aircraft has been pushed back from late 2019 to an unspecified time because of delays on the aircraft’s GE Aviation Catalyst turboprop engine. The Prague-based company says it is “moving forward” with engineering and certification testing of the 1,100-1,300hp (820-970kW) powerplant, adding that it has logged “more than 1,750h of combined operation and 10 engines are now assembled”. It is hoping to fly the Catalyst on its Beechcraft 350 testbed “later this year” and then deliver the first engine to Cessna.
Launched in 2015 as a competitor to executive turboprops such as PC-12NG and Daher 940, the Denali features a Garmin G3000 integrated touchscreen flightdeck. It will carry eight to 11 passengers, cruise at 285kt and have a 1,600nm range.